As the new British Asian musical Bring on the Bollywood hits the Rose Theatre, Kingston, in a kaleidoscope of costume, song and high-energy dance routines, I asked the director Samir Bhamra about a stage show that pays homage to India’s vibrant film industry
How did you end up writing, directing AND designing the costumes?
It wasn’t meant to be, I was only meant to produce the show. It just so happened that many people – four commissioned writers – felt they couldn’t do it, and we had committed to doing the show. So then I wrote it. Someone had to.
And the way you found your lead actress wasn’t quite the way you’d expected either?
We did about 16 days of first auditions and I was really struggling to find anyone for a lead actress and actor. Both had to be able to sing, dance and act in English and Hindi. It just so happened that at the dance auditions one of the choreographers had brought a helper. I didn’t realise that, and as she said goodbye I asked her when she was auditioning…. Twenty minutes later I knew in my heart I’d found her, though I made her go through 4 more auditions to make sure that my head agreed! It’s a moment out of any film.
Tell me about the costumes.
They’re sumptuous. We’re not using them all but there were about 500 costumes made for the show. We use 360 in total. Everything in Bollywood comes to an element of dance, so when I was designing the costumes I tried to imagine how the dance would look.There’s a beautiful dress that Ronnie’s dead wife wears, champagne-coloured with multiple layers of lace skirt with gold embroidery. It just looks so spectacular as the layers of underskirt rise as she twirls. Everybody associates Bollywood with the earthy pinks and oranges of India, and we certainly have those, but this show also has a subtlety and romantic elements, and I’ve tried to bring that with the champagne tones, dusky roses, pale turquoises.
Were they the bulk of the budget?
I travelled to India to source fabric and get them made there. The prices aren’t much different: it would cost me about £30 in the UK to get one of the skirts made and it would still cost me £30 in India. But what I get over there is a variety of fabric, and a skill set of embroidery and handiwork that just does not exist in the UK. The distribution warehouses sell to me at just over their own cost price, because I buy so much. And I haggle, a lot. So it ends up being actually quite cost effective.I didn’t have to spend money on a hotel because I have friends who let me stay, and gave me a room to turn into my workshop and store for literally stacks and stacks of shopping. There were six body bags full of costumes. It took me about eight weeks, on my own. The cost was about £10K.
Did you go to the Bollywood costume industry?
No, no, I don’t go to Bollywood, because what I would end up getting is a cheaper, tackier version made to last only for a film, whereas I needed them to last for a theatre show. Everything is constructed in a way to make it easy for fast costume change, and for the costume to last, because there’s 72 shows in this tour, the biggest by any British Asian company in the 35 years that Asian companies have existed in the UK.
Bring On The Bollywood runs at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, from Thursday May 25 – Sunday May 28 2017.